The New Year can be a time for personal growth. Most people aim for self-improvement by making a list of resolutions that they hope to keep throughout the year. But for people who struggle with substance abuse, the New Year offers an opportunity for a fresh start, free from the prison of active addiction. For them, New Year’s resolution take on a deeper meaning.
In that spirit, here is a list of the Top Recovery Resolutions for 2020. Find the ones that best suits your situation, do your best, and make 2020 your happiest and healthiest year ever!
#1 Resolve that You Will FINALLY Get Help
“You may not reach anywhere with a single step; but with it, you open the door leading to infinity!”
~ Mehmet Murat ildan
Your sober journey starts here, with this first all-important step.
If you are like most addicts and alcoholics, you probably think that this is a personal problem that you should be able to handle on your own. After all, it’s just a matter of having enough willpower, right?
Unfortunately, Substance Use Disorders don’t work that way.
Addiction is a disease, and like any other health condition, you need specialized care if you are going to successfully recover.
#2 Resolve to Surrender
“Surrender to what IS. Let go of what WAS. Have faith in what WILL BE.”
~ Sonia Ricotti, author of The Law of Attraction Plain and Simple: Create the Extraordinary Life That You Deserve
Addicts are stubborn. Even after you have admitted that you need professional help, you are probably still determined to do things YOUR way. You figure that YOU should be in control of your own recovery.
But here is the reality—you already gave up any control you once had to your disease.
And here is another harsh but important truth—your way of doing things hasn’t worked. In fact, stubbornly relying only on yourself has probably made a and complete mess of things. To move forward in recovery, you must make the conscious decision to turn your life and will over to something outside of and greater than yourself.
In a surprising and wonderful way, by relinquishing control, you are actually regaining a measure of control over your life’s direction. When you fully commit to a positive course of action – recovery –you turn away from the dysfunction and chaos of active addiction and start moving toward the serenity, stability, and sanity of a healthy recovery.
#3 Resolve to Trust and Have Faith
“Life remains unchanged
till a leap of faith
runs towards heaven.”
~ Santosh Kalwar
You must make a conscious decision to ACCEPT the help that is offered. Specifically, you must let guidance, strength, and inspiration come from without, rather than within. And along the way, there are many people and concepts in which you will need to place your trust:
- Your initial decision to get help –When you face difficulties, you will be tempted to second-guess yourself and wonder if you make the right decision. Don’t worry, you did.
- Your treatment team – This may include your case manager, your doctor, your therapists, and your addiction specialists. Here’s the thing -if they have the proper credentials and they offer evidence-based treatment, you may absolutely rely on their judgment. They literally have thousands of hours of training and experience in helping people just like you.
- Your sponsor –They have been exactly where you are right now. They can help you avoid mistakes and continued to move forward in recovery.
- Your peers –They are in this with you. Support each other.
- Your personal support system – Your family and friends have your best interests at heart.
- The recovery process itself – Today, SUD is a recognized medical condition. As such, there are accepted treatments and therapies that are backed by scientific evidence.
- A Higher Power – This is where some people resist because they do not want to bring religion into their recovery. But the concept of a Higher Power is NOT about any specific creed or denomination. Rather, it means drawing strength, inspiration, guidance, and hope from SOMETHING outside of and greater than yourself—science, the universe, the essential goodness of humanity, or any God of your own personal understanding.
Consider this—if your addiction is beyond YOUR control, then only some Power greater than your addiction can restore your sobriety and sanity.
#4 Resolve to Be Honest
“Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.”
~ Alcoholics Anonymous, The Big Book
Addiction feeds on denial, dishonesty, deceit, and deception. The longer you can fool others and yourself, the more your disease can grow. With this in mind, you might say that honesty is the foundation of recovery. It certainly guides many of the Twelve Steps of Recovery.
To successfully recover, you must be honest with:
- Yourself – Admitting that your drinking and drug use has gone beyond your control and is making your life unmanageable eliminates the denial that supported continued addiction. If you stop fooling yourself, then you give yourself permission to get better.
- Your treatment team – When you are completely honest with your doctors and counselors, you give them what they need to create your best individual service plan of recovery.
- Your sponsor – Sharing your frustrations, temptations, and problems help your sponsor determine the right guidance and advice.
- Your family members and friends – Honesty helps you repair much of the damage that your addiction did to your personal relationships.
- Your peers in recovery – The other people in your therapy and 12-Step groups are in the same place you are and going through the same things. They WILL hold you accountable and support your sobriety in wonderful ways that other people cannot match.
#5 Resolve to Take Responsibility
“In all the years that I have personally lived and worked with addicts, whether as a friend, a professional, an educator or a spiritual teacher, I have not once witnessed someone come to their sobriety — or at the very least some semblance of that sobriety — without first saying, “I just don’t want to be that person any more.””
~ Michael Formica
Active addicts leave chaos, pain, and havoc in their wake. Lives are damaged and people are hurt. And because one of the defining characteristics SUD is extreme self-absorption, they minimize their behaviors and blame others for the harm that they have caused. And because in their minds nothing is ever their fault, their behavior never changes.
Here’s the thing—they let those harmful behaviors define them. Because although they shift the blame and almost never show true remorse, on some level, they still are aware of the pain that they have caused. And to cope with that guilt, they drink and use even more, which of course results in even more dysfunctional behavior.
It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
But in recovery, you are taught the value of taking responsibility for your actions, past and present. This starts with taking what 12-Step programs refer to as a “searching and fearless moral inventory” that lists both your character strengths and your weaknesses.
Using this list, you can then take a look at how your character defects and actions have harmed other people. Neither the inventory or have the list of people you have harmed should be made lightly—spend some time on it, give it some serious thought, and be as specific as possible.
This is your chance—perhaps for the first time—to truly see the consequences of your actions. This is the beginning of taking personal responsibility for the things you have done.
And when you are completely finished, there is one more thing to do – you must admit the nature of those harms to someone else. Chooses someone you can trust, such as the close friend, your sponsor, the therapists, or a member of the clergy, and admit your wrongs.
Why is this so necessary?
There are two reasons:
FIRST, this ensures that you are not still in denial and taking it easy on yourself, similar to the way you did when you were actively addicted. The other person can help hold you accountable.
SECOND, although the prospect of telling another person might seem terrifying, shedding the burdens of shame, guilt, and regret is incredibly liberating. And now that you are no longer carrying those secrets around, you will find that you can move forward in recovery much easier.
#6 Resolve to Make Amends
“Sometimes you only get one chance to rewrite the qualities of the character you played in a person’s life story. Always take it. Never let the world read the wrong version of you.”
~ Shannon L. Alder
A large part of recovery involves learning from your past so you can move forward without constantly repeating your mistakes. And one of the best ways to grow in sobriety and demonstrate to yourself and others that you are no longer the same person is to make amends for the past harms you have caused.
This is more than simply making an apology.
Making amends involves sincerely and personally trying to right the wrongs that you are responsible for. An example of direct amends would be paying back a debt or replacing something that you stole during your substance-using days.
Sometimes, however, it is impossible to make amends to the person you harmed. For example, if you committed a crime, assaulted someone, or your addiction-driven actions resulted in someone else’s death, then the only thing you can do is try to make indirect amends.
This might involve volunteering or otherwise helping others. For instance, you might help out at a homeless shelter or donate your time and participate in a program that directly benefits people in need. In some ways, indirect amends are a kind of community service for your soul.
One standout example of the kind of selfless efforts that some people make is when someone who was involved in a drunk-driving tragedy becomes an organ donor. While they can never take back their past actions, they can potentially save lives in the future.
Why is it so important to make amends?
Again, when you sincerely attempt to correct your mistakes and make up for any harm that you may have caused, it clearly demonstrates that you are taking responsibility and you are committed to changing for the better. This will have a profoundly-positive impact on your relationship with others. Often, it can be the catalyst for eventual reconciliation with loved ones you may have estranged.
But for you personally, sincere atonement helps you finally shed the last vestiges of any toxic shame that might undermine your recovery and lead to relapse.
#7 Resolve to Slow Down
“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.”
~ Dr. Britta Hölzel, PhD, Giessen University
When you enter a rehab program and start to see some progress, you will feel the urge to make up for lost time. In addition to your ongoing recovery activities, you will also have the other demands on your time. As you start to put your life back together, other obligations will also need your attention:
- Other family members
- Responsibilities at Home
- Court-mandated activities
You will have so many family, social, and work-related demands on your time that you will wonder how you will meet all of your obligations and have time for it all.
Here’s the short answer – you CAN’T.
Unfortunately, when you try to do too much, something always has to give, and far too often, that “something” ends up being either your recovery efforts, your sobriety, your physical and mental health, or all of the above.
To ensure that does not happen to you, there are a few things that you can do:
- ALWAYS put your recovery first.
- Learn the value of “NO”.
- Be picky about the invitations that you accept.
- Differentiate between what you want to do and what you have to do.
- Get help from your support system.
It is also important to take some quiet time each day to recharge your batteries and to do a self-assessment on your own emotional state. One of the best ways to do this is to practice mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is when you consciously focus your attention and awareness on what is happening in your life. This deliberate focus slows you down and teaches you to RESPOND to any problems, instead of impulsively REACTING to them.
Massachusetts General Hospital conducted research that found that by meditating for an average of just 27 minutes a day, participants experienced measurable changes within the region of the brain associated with stress, empathy, memory, and identity.
#8 Resolve to Take Care of Yourself
“Much of your strength as a woman can come from the resolve to replenish and fill your own well and essence first, before taking care of others.”
~ Miranda J. Barrett, A Woman’s Truth: A Life Truly Worth Living
Along those same lines, it is also too easy to neglect your physical health when you are concentrating on sobriety and still trying to handle everything else in your life. When you are stressed and overwhelmed, you don’t get enough rest, you forget to exercise, and your diet is an unhealthy combination of junk and fast food.
Early in recovery, you are taught to never to let yourself get “too hungry” or “too tired”. This is with good reason.
When you are not eating right, it is hard for your newly-sober brain to tell the difference between hunger pangs and cravings for drugs and alcohol. And if you mistake one for the other, you can actually trigger strong cravings that put you at increased risk of relapse.
It is also necessary to avoid any foods made with alcohol because even trace amounts can trigger a strong reaction in your still-vulnerable brain. This could include many sauces, wine vinegars, beer bread and beer-battered fried foods, and even certain desserts.
To prevent this:
- Be aware – Learn to recognize pangs as hunger, instead of cravings.
- Always eat breakfast – Eating every morning “reprograms” your body so it expects nourishment at the beginning of the day.
- Keep healthy snacks and drinks handy –This is absolutely necessary. Nuts, fruits, yogurt, and granola bars are all convenient, quick, and healthy sources of energy.
- Plan for the day – When you are trying to accommodate your busy schedule, it only makes good sense to have a plan in place, so you can eat healthy and avoid temptation.
Finally, good nutrition during recovery helps repair much of the physical damage caused by excessive drinking and drug abuse.
Just as importantly, when you don’t get enough rest, your judgment and impulse control are both impaired. In this state, you are much more likely to give in to cravings or temptation. Poor quality sleep has also been linked to both anxiety and depression, each of which can contribute to substance abuse.
Insomnia is one of the top complaints made by people in recovery, and if not taken care of, it puts your long-term sobriety in jeopardy. 60% of alcoholics with chronic, untreated insomnia will relapse within five years.
There’s one important caveat – if you have a history of substance abuse, you should avoid sleeping pills, which can themselves be extremely habit-forming. Of special relevance, 5% of women use sedating sleep aids, compared to just 3% of men.
Physical activity can help with a number of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and addiction. In fact, strenuous exercise has been shown to protect the brain before, during, and after substance abuse.
What are some of the ways and exercise can help?
- Exercise stimulates the appetite.
- Even just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can improve the quality of your sleep.
- Exercise activates the brain’s reward/pleasure centers, similarly to alcohol and drugs. This makes physical activity an effective and safe substitute for mood-altering substances.
- Exercise is an excellent means of reducing stress.
#9 Resolve to Be Grateful
“You can spend your life wallowing in despair, wondering why you were the one who was led towards the road strewn with pain, or you can be grateful that you are strong enough to survive it.”
~ J.D. Stroube
12-Step groups often talk about having an “attitude of gratitude” for your “blessings received”. There are several practical reasons why this is a good idea: an
- Gratitude Makes You Mentally Stronger – When you ungrateful for what you have, it helps you overcome trauma. For example, a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology determined that victims of 9/11 were more resilient when they were grateful.
Additionally, a 2006 study that is Peter in Behavior Research and Therapy found that Vietnam-era veterans who considered themselves grateful experienced lower rates of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
Relevantly, up to 50% of alcoholics and around 30% of drug addicts struggle with PTSD.
- Gratitude Improves Your Self-Esteem – A 2014 study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, reports that gratitude can increase your positive self-image. The National Center for Biotechnology has linked low-self-esteem to substance abuse.
- Gratitude Helps You Sleep Better – Per Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, spending just 15 minutes a night writing in your gratitude journal improves the quality and duration of your sleep.
#10 Resolve to Forgive and to Seek Forgiveness
“You have to let go of what could have been, how you should have acted, and what you wish you would have said differently. You have to accept that you can’t change the past experiences, opinions of others at that moment in time, or outcomes from their choices or yours. When you finally realize that truth, then you will understand the true meaning of forgiveness of yourself and others. From this point you will finally be free.”
~ Shannon L. Alder, 300 Questions to Ask Your Parents Before It’s Too Late
This is one of the hardest resolutions to keep, but it is extremely necessary. Grudges and unresolved resentments create a negative emotional atmosphere that does not support sobriety and continued recovery.
- Forgive Yourself –If you want others to accept the “new” you, you have to recognize yourself first. Because you are trying to be a new person, let go of any resentment or anger that you feel towards the “old ” you.
- Leave the Past in the Past – Without minimizing, realize that what is done is done and cannot be changed. Today, focus on moving forward in a positive direction.
- Stop Keeping Score – Addicts and alcoholics are infamous for their ability to “keep records” of past mistakes, slights, and grievances, real or imagined. This isn’t a contest that anybody can win.
- Back Up Your Apology– Don’t just say the words “I’m sorry” – DO something. Show your sincerity with your attitude, behaviors, and new habits
- Respect the Feelings of Others – Forgiveness doesn’t happen on your schedule. It happens on THEIRS.
- Practice Good Listening – Actively listen to what your friends and family members are trying to say. Do not try to interrupt or respond with shallow explanations, rationalizations, or justifications. If you pay attention, your loved ones will teach you what you need in order to be forgiven.
- Be Tolerant of Others – You are trying to better yourself, but remember, not everyone is been in the same place or even on the same path. Learn to accept other people exactly as they are, without criticizing or passing judgment.
- Prioritize What’s Really Important – Sometimes –maybe even most times -it is more important to forgive and forget and preserve relationships than it is to win an argument just to prove that you are right.
Forgiveness is important because it allows you to start with a clean emotional slate. You will happily find out that letting go of all of your pent-up resentment, jealousy, and anger provides you with an incredible feeling of relief and liberation.
#11 Resolve to Find Joy
“In recovery, recovering addicts do more than lose their addictions. Usually, they regain enjoyment of life… Most individuals want to be happy. Addicts learn that they may be happy – even joyful – by appreciating their lives in recovery. Instead of killing themselves with their addictive substances, they live in freedom.”
~ Dr. Francis A. Martin, PhD, Full Life: A Workbook for Spiritual Recovery from Addictions
Many people who are new to recovery find it hard to stay motivated or interested in virtually anything, including things that they used to enjoy. Because they aren’t as happy as they thought they would be, they wonder if it’s all worth it.
But what they don’t realize is there is an actual biological reason for this TEMPORARY dissatisfaction.
Chronic substance abuse disrupts the reward and pleasure centers of the brain. And even after detox, It can take some time before your brain chemistry returns to normal. This is a dangerous period because many people relapse and return to substance use in an attempt to make themselves feel better.
But when you replace the self-destructive behaviors of active addiction with healthier habits that promote your continued sobriety, you will find yourself rediscovering everyday happiness sooner than you think.
- Focus on Your Strengths—You have what it takes to succeed.
- Surround Yourself with Positive People—Only associate with people who support your recovery and growth.
- Practice Stress Reduction—There is a biological link between stress and substance abuse.
- Meditate for Self-Awareness—When you are aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical state, you can deal with any potential issues before they become problems.
- Appreciate the Little Things—Make a point of noticing anything positive. Even something as simple as a compliment can make your day.
- Count Your Blessings—Reminding yourself of everything you have regained during recovery is an excellent way out to promote a positive mindset.
Finding joy early in recovery can be a challenge. You may even have to redefine your idea of “fun”. And at first, your still-healing brain may not let you enjoy things as much as you would like.
But there is good news – you can “fake it ‘til you make it”, with surprisingly positive results. By simply trying new positive activities, you promote increased production of your body’s natural “feel-good” chemicals. In other words, you will start having fun IN SPITE of yourself.
#12 Resolve to Help Others
“When you are involved in helping others, it blocks off destructive emotions and impulses. You can’t be ruminating or feel hostile and bitter if you’re feeling moved by helping someone else.”
~ Stephen Post, The Hidden Gifts of Helping
A growing body of evidence suggests that helping other people provides measurable physical and psychological benefits that support sustained sobriety. Serving others improves your chances of avoiding relapse and successfully recovering.
This has been the philosophy of the 12th Step of Recovery for decades:
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
The University of Connecticut conducted a study involving over 1700 people. The subjects all participated in Alcoholics Anonymous programs and were separated into groups of those who (a) became AA sponsors, (b) completed the 12th Recovery Step, or (c) did neither.
Comparing those who helped versus those who did not, the researchers discovered that after three months of professional treatment:
- 40% of helpers remained alcohol-free for at least 1 year.
- Just 22% of non-helpers abstained.
According to a different 2010 survey involving more than 4500 adult volunteers:
- 77% enjoyed better emotional health
- 73% experienced less stress
- 68% felt better physically
Best of all, nearly every participant reported feeling happier. This isn’t surprising, because helping or serving others also triggers a release of dopamine. In other words, DO good to FEEL good.
Science supports the benefits of service to others. For example, when you help others who are facing similar struggles as yourself, it seems to activate the same parts of the brain that are engaged in child-rearing. This results in:
- Reduced stress
- Strengthened immunity
- Fewer self-centered behaviors
Just as relevant, the regions of the brain that are associated with selfishness and hoarding behaviors are also involved in addiction.
Dr. Maria Pagano, of Northwestern University, says, “You apparently value your sobriety more when you share with others about what your life is like now…helping others reminds the alcoholic of how thin the line is between recovery and relapse.”
Why Make Recovery Resolutions?
Addicts and alcoholics don’t make New Year’s resolutions as part of some kind of playful vanity project where the results don’t matter. In a very real way, the difference between active addiction and recovery can be a matter of life or death.
This list was purposefully general, so you can tailor your 2020 resolutions to fit your specific situation. And while we hope you take all of these suggestions to heart, the first one is by far the most important—if you are struggling with any kind of addictive disorder, then get the help you need NOW.